Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a fish? Yes, it’s a big trout. A giant, fibreglass trout, perched on a pole at the entrance to Gore, a Southland town famous for – you guessed it – the brown trout that live in Mataura River.
The river’s a spectacularly pretty spot, but you couldn’t say that of the fibreglass trout, which is astonishingly ugly, as roadside attractions generally are. They tend towards the big, kitsch and colourful, but once they’ve been around for a while, people seem to develop a fondness for them and eventually they reach icon status. Some of them, anyway.
Take the 7m high L&P bottle in Paeroa, at the base of the Coromandel Peninsula. The drink may now be owned by a multinational, but it’s still seen as a Kiwi drink. And the Paeroa bottle, bar the odd paint job, hasn’t been altered since it was erected in 1967, becoming, over time, a true New Zealand icon. Like a true roadside attraction, it was erected to promote the town, although its shape was originally nothing to do with the local drink (it was meant to represent a rocket, a couple of years ago before the first moon landing).
Then there’s Ohakune’s carrot, erected in 1984 to celebrate the area’s carrot production. It’s somewhat dwarfed by Mt Ruapehu looming over the town, but is reputedly the world’s largest carrot.
Simon O’Neill sent us a photo of a dinosaur built from recovered swamp wood at Raurimu. “The builder’s intention was that this would be the first of a number of such beasts on this corner but it has been vandalised a couple of times since so he may have lost interest,” Simon says.
Down the road at Te Kuiti (shearing capital of the world) is a seven-metre high, seven-tonne model of a shearer, while at Tirau, on SHI, an entire building, the iSite, is in the shape of a sheepdog, constructed from corrugated iron. A few meters along the road is a shop in the shape of a sheep, also made from iron.
Taranaki’s contribution is a giant loaf of bread, in Manaia, “NZ’s bread capital” and home of Yarrows Family Bakers while the Bay of Plenty’s success at producing kiwifruit is honoured by a giant kiwfruit at the Kiwi360 fun park in Te Puke. (It’s a variation on the road sign icon, being attached to a commercial operation as opposed to promoting the town itself.)
Otago’s stone fruit is represented by what Lonely Planet described as a “spectacularly ugly giant fruit salad” at the entrance to Cromwell. It’s not inaccurate but it wouldn’t be a true roadside attraction if it weren’t garish and larger than life.
Then there are the fish – the aforementioned trout in Gore, and a giant salmon at Rakaia, south of Christchurch on SH. Kaikoura apparently has a giant crayfish, but until someone sends us a photo, we can’t confirm it.
Not convinced? Look at Wikipedia’s list of roadside attractions around the world, and suddenly big carrots and bottles will seem normal and organic, when you see they’re up against things like the World’s Largest Fake Nose and Glasses (Indiana), World’s Largest Brick (Alabama), and World’s Largest Basket (Ohio).
Kiwi icons aren’t limited to road signs, of course. If you’re in Hawke’s Bay, you must pay a visit to Pania of the Reef by the shore in Napier, and to see the sign for the longest place name in the world, Taumata whakatangi hangakoauau o tamatea turi pukakapiki maunga horo nuku pokai whenua kitanatahu, just south of Waipukura.
In the Bay of Islands, Kawakawa’s public toilets are a tourist stop off – they’re designed by ex-pat Austrian Friedensreich Hundertwasser and constructed from recycled glass and reclaimed bricks New Zealand’s sheep dog are also honoured by a statue outside the lovely Church of the Good Shepherd beside Lake Tekapo, in Canterbury, and someone with a sense of humour put up a giant sandfly at Greymouth, on the West Coast.